Virgin America might have the best award chart in the world. Last week I covered the amazing deals to, from, and within Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines using Virgin America points. See 20k Points Roundtrip to Hawaii, 45k Roundtrip to Asia, 55k Roundtrip to Australia.
That discovery made me investigate Virgin America’s partner award charts more closely. Virgin America lists two other partners on which you can redeem: Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.
Yes, the Virgin A’s are three separate airlines that have all licensed the Virgin brand name. Virgin America has hubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles; Virgin Atlantic has a hub in London; and Virgin Australia has hubs in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.
I’ve covered the foreign Virgin A’s before because both have fantastic business class products.
But I’ve never seen a way to get on their premium products for anywhere near as cheap as Virgin America’s chart.
For only 35,000 Virgin America points, you can fly roundtrip from New York, Newark, Boston, Washington DC, and Chicago to London.
Still this is a deal that I think is very worthy of consideration. Normally business class costs 100k roundtrip to Europe. You can get a nice business class like United, US Airways, or Austrian for under $300 out of pocket in government taxes if you are flying to London.
So is the extra $700-$800 out of pocket worth the better product and saving 65k points? That depends on how points rich and cash rich you are, but for many people the answer will be yes.
Or to look at it another way: if you valued a roundtrip Upper Class ticket at $2,000 (a fraction of its cost), and you had to pay 35,000 points and $1,000, you’d be getting about 3 cents per point in value–pretty fantastic!
You can take a look at all the possibilities to redeem Virgin America points on Virgin Atlantic flights here. You’ll generally find complete steals in points with annoying surcharges.
There is no chart, only dropdown boxes to choose a departure and arrival city.
From playing around a bit, I can tell that each segment adds to the total price, so LAX to Johannesburg equals LAX to London plus London to Johannesburg since the trip would route that way. Oneway awards are available for about 60% of the roundtrip points needed.
Virgin America points can also be redeemed on Virgin Australia flights. While not quite as spectacular as Virgin Atlantic Upper Class, Virgin Australia business class gets lots of praise too for its fully flat beds.
Virgin Australia is one of the few bright spots of the Delta SkyMiles program because award availability is spectacular, and Delta doesn’t charge surcharges on the awards making the out of pocket price 150k SkyMiles and $150.
Unfortunately Virgin America does collect surcharges, but the award price in miles is a steal compared to Delta’s price.
The US–Los Angeles or San Francisco–to Australia–Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane–is only 80k points and $850. That’s 70k fewer points than a SkyMiles redemption though it will cost though $700 more.
Saving 70k points at the cost of $700 extra is like paying one cent per point to buy points, something that I have advocated before. Again this deal may not be for everyone, but for some, the deal is too good to pass up.
Like the Virgin Atlantic awards, no chart is published. Instead the Virgin Australia page uses the same dropdown boxes. Oneway awards are available for about 60% of the roundtrip points needed.
How to Get Virgin America Points
There are three main ways to get Virgin America points to take advantage of its favorable chart for Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia redemptions.
Like all airlines, you can earn points by flying butt-in-seat miles. Virgin points are earned at a rate of 5 per $ on your base fare. They are not earned the way that legacy-carrier miles are earned–based on the distance of your paid flights’ routings.
Butt-in-seat is probably only viable for people who live near LAX and SFO–Virgin’s hubs.
The easiest way for most people is probably the Virgin America Visa Signature card from Barclay’s.
The card comes with 20k Elevate points on first purchase. That’s more than half the points needed for a roundtrip flight in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class from New York, Newark, Chicago, Washington DC, and Boston to London.
The card comes with a very low $49 annual fee, which is more than offset by the $150 annual companion ticket discount code. And unlike a lot of companion ticket discounts, this one is actually easy to use. It is valid on any roundtrip published airfare, purchased 14 days in advance as long as the cardholder is on the itinerary.
Finally, the card is issued by Barclay’s, which is great, since you can get it in addition to other offers from the other banks with more rewards cards. And it has no minimum spend to get the points, which is great if your spending is being spread thin by the ever-growing minimum spends on most cards.
I should also mention that 20k is the highest bonus I’ve ever seen on this card–the application page notes it is double the usual bonus–so I am not expecting a bigger bonus any time soon.
Application Link: 20k Virgin America Visa Signature Card
The last option to get Elevate points is through a transfer from Membership Rewards. AMEX points transfer at a 2:1 rate, meaning 2,000 Membership Rewards gets 1,000 Virgin America points.
That means you could get the card and 20k points, then transfer 30k Membership Rewards to 15k Elevate points to make 35k total Elevate points, enough for a roundtrip in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class.
In November, there was a 50% transfer bonus to from Membership Rewards to Virgin America, which made the transfer rate 4:3. At that rate, you could get in premium cabins for even fewer points.
Virgin America is not a transfer partner of SPG.
How to Book
Virgin America partner awards need to be booked by phone by calling 877.FLY.VIRGIN (877.359.8474). Researching Virgin Australia space can be done online at delta.com. I don’t know a place to research Virgin Atlantic space online.
Virgin America may have the world’s best award chart. In addition to its partnership with Hawaiian Airlines, Virgin America partners with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.
Unfortunately it collects surcharges on awards on the Virgins, but the point prices are so low that the awards can still be a great deal. Virgin Atlantic Upper Class starts at 35k roundtrip, and Virgin Australia business starts at 80k.
These awards would normally cost 100k and 150k respectively.
People with Virgin America miles have a new cheapest way to get into Upper Class. If you don’t have any miles, consider the Virgin America credit card or a Membership Rewards transfer.